Why We Still Need Feminists

We are not looking in our rear view mirror at rights that have made us equal for generations.

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typing-pool
Typing pool, circa 1950’s. (Photo: Wikipedia.com)

I graduated high school in 1995, having never taken one elective class I’d really wanted to take. Every year I asked my mom, and every year she told me she would refuse to sign off on any schedule in which I tried to register for the class.

 

Keyboarding.
This was just before the advent of the internet, when everyone was on a computer, mobile or otherwise, at all times. Keyboarding, at that time, was a legitimate endeavor. Mainly, you were taught how to type without looking at all at your hands, with your fingers in set positions on a QWERTY keyboard. You were taught to type with decreasing typos and increasing speed.
She flat out refused to let me take it.
For me, the class was a chance to hang out with a different set of kids. I was always in Honors classes, which meant I generally moved through my day surrounded by the same group of classmates. Electives were my chance to maybe sit next to a new guy or see my best friend who didn’t take any Honors classes.
My mom wasn’t having it.
Sure, there were other electives. But orchestra, which I took every year, tended to have mostly those same Honors students in it. Art was a good mix of kids, until I ran out of art classes to take and took an AP Studio Art class that allowed me to take photography as an independent study.
There were five kids in that class.
I’d ask her why and she always answered that there were so many electives available to me. Pick another one.
Within a year of my graduation, the internet exploded with dial up and AOL and chat rooms.
I was working part time for my mom and her friend the summer after graduation. They’d started their own benefits consulting firm. My dad had left the previous year and my mom needed to earn more money in order to support us alone, so her and her friend figured that was their best shot at higher salaries. Paying themselves.
She’d give me a document or letter to type up and I’d tease her.
I could be typing this way quicker if you’d have let me take keyboarding.
She’d give me a smartass reply and move on.
That fall I started college at a private, four-year university nearby to which I earned a partial scholarship. Two weeks later, without discussing it with my mother, I went down to the registrar and signed myself out.
She’d had to declare bankruptcy and sell our home after my dad left. We were living in an apartment, her and my brother and I, and she was trying to make her new business work so she could better support us. It felt like, at the time, the best thing I could do was not strap her with more debt. Not be another source of worry for her. I felt it was best if I got out and got myself a full time job and supported myself. So I found one and quit school before we were responsible for any tuition.
That night we sat at our kitchen table discussing what I’d done.
She looked tired.
You always said you wanted to be a lawyer.
I shrugged. Yeah, well I’m not really feeling that anyway. I’d be racking up all this debt when I don’t really know what I even want to do.
My mom wasn’t having it. She begged and cried and I was stubborn and cried. Then she finally told me.
I never let you take that stupid keyboarding class because I wanted you to have all the opportunities I never had. When I went to school, all the girls were told to take keyboarding. Because if you weren’t going to be a teacher or a nurse, you were going to be a secretary somewhere until you found a guy to marry you. Which is exactly what I did. I never let you take that class because I wanted you to be in a position where you could hire your own fucking secretary if you needed something typed.
 
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Men, and often women, comment on my writing about feminism.
You want equal rights? You got ’em. Shut up already.
What are you even marching for?
I have never felt inferior to men. I earn the same as them. I don’t know what you people are talking about.
It doesn’t seem to matter to these people what our national statistics say. Or that the statistics are even worse for some minorities.
I am a feminist because we are not treated as equals.
 
Our pay is not equal. Our representation in government is not equal. The men in government are making decisions that affect my health and body, and that is not equal.
I am a feminist because minority men and women are not treated as equals.
 
Their pay is not equal. Their representation in government is not equal. The men in government are making decisions that affect their health and bodies, and that is not equal.

Putting aside all of that, I am a feminist because our hold on these freedoms you claim we have feels tenuous, at best.

We’re not talking about generations of freedom. One generation ago my mother had to take a keyboarding class in order to graduate high school because that, typing out letters, was considered her best option for employment until she got married.
One generation ago, my mother was married and a mother before she was legally allowed to have a credit card in her name. And that was only because a female congresswoman, unbeknownst to her colleagues, added the language banning discrimination based on sex and marriage. The law was going to be passed without it.
One generation ago, my mother was married and a mother and could legally be fired from her job for getting pregnant.
One generation ago, my mother was married and a mother before she could even report sexual harassment. Actually, make that less than a generation ago. Because sexual harassment wasn’t legally defined until I was three years old. 
Less than a generation ago? In MY lifetime, my mother still could be excluded from being on a jury because she was a woman. Still could legally be discriminated against in regards to housing and credit because she was a woman. Still had her husband considered “head and master” by many states in regards to jointly owned property. Still could be legally passed up for promotion in a law firm for being a woman. Until I was 16 years old, it was still legal in some states to rape your spouse. Until I was 16, a woman had to prove she’d been physically or psychologically harmed in order to claim she’d been sexually harassed. (Click here for a quick reference to all the claims made in this paragraph.)
Just because you personally are not experiencing something, doesn’t mean others, elsewhere, aren’t experiencing it. Women across the country are earning less than their male counterparts. We are severely underrepresented in government. That includes local and state representation, not just federal. We are not looking in our rear view mirror at rights that have made us equal for generations.
So I’m a feminist. You don’t have to agree with me, but it would be nice if you stopped trying to tell me to give it up.
Either way, I’ll still be a feminist. For all of us.

History Repeats Itself, While I Can’t Even Look at the Pictures 

History repeats itself. We’re told that pithy little phrase and I think too many of us never truly get to the heart of understanding.

Image collage found here

I remember the first panic attack I had.

The thing is, I don’t think it was the first panic attack I ever had. I think it was the worst one I’d had at that point. Which meant that as it was happening, as I was crying and heard a high-pitched, frantic gasping for air and realized it was coming from me, I thought, “I hope this is what people call a panic attack. Otherwise, I’m dying.

I was driving home from work, listening to Howard Stern on satellite radio. I use the word driving loosely. This was New York during rush hour.

I was inching home from work.

The New York market was ripe for someone like him to make it as big as he has. We’re all begging for someone to take us out of our heads for the hours we spend inching along in our cars.

That evening I was listening to the replay from that morning and Robin was doing the news. I was half-listening in that way you do when you’re driving. Sort of like when you arrive somewhere and don’t remember the drive at all. It’s happening, but you’re not truly dialed in. So I knew the story Robin was sharing was about a woman who’d thrown her toddler off a balcony.

I must have heard, in some distracted part of my brain, the part about the mother doing it during a hysterical call to 911.

But my brain didn’t make the connection. Didn’t pay attention in time to figure out that they were playing the recording of the 911 call.

She was screaming. The child’s cries and screams could be heard in the background. Loud at first, then quieter as it was tossed away. Then, still quiet, but closer when the mother, still on the phone with 911 dispatch, went down the stairs to sit beside the child as he cried and whimpered on the ground.

That’s the first panic attack where I pulled over. Full stop. Pulled over because driving was no longer physically possible.

The best class I ever took was a Humanities elective on the Holocaust during college. The professor was amazing. The readings were stunning. It’s the only college class I ever took where I kept all the texts and still revisit them. I still own them among my most cherished books.

During the course of the class, throughout each topic we touched upon, he kept returning our focus to the people of Germany.

When the Jews in that village were rounded up, what did their neighbors do? The night of Kristallnacht, what did non-Jewish business owners do?

These are the questions he asked. Our answers were always the same.

Nothing.

They did nothing.

Which isn’t to say there weren’t heroes scattered here and there. But the majority of people, the majority of those not under direct threat from the Nazis, did nothing.

They looked away.

It wasn’t our final assignment, but somewhere towards the end of the semester he asked us to write an essay telling him what we would have done.

I don’t want to hear what you would do now. The you who sits before me. I want you to transplant yourself into the stories we’ve read. The eyewitness accounts we’ve read. Find yourself in our readings. Do you own a business? Go back and read what the business owners did. Are you a single mother? Go back and read what other mothers did. Maybe you’re just a student right now. We read about college students back then. Find a version of you in what we’ve read and be honest. No matter how difficult your answer is, I want you to be honest when you write to me of what you would have done as a non-Jewish German citizen during the Holocaust.

Nothing.

That’s the answer I put in my essay.

The truth is that, for as many times as we questioned in that class how they could have done nothing, we would have done the same. They were fearful. They felt impotent. They were brainwashed. What happened was a slow, systematic approach to destroying a people that almost succeeded.

Because mostly everyone did nothing.

The big lesson I took from that is that we can’t do nothing if it happens again. History repeats itself. We’re told that pithy little phrase and I think too many of us never truly get to the heart of understanding.

That’s the marrow of the lesson imparted to me in that Holocaust class.

We cannot sit and do nothing the next time.

There will be a next time.

I had a panic attack late last night. I’d been anxious all day. I tried going to bed early. I slept for a bit, but woke and couldn’t get back to sleep. I logged into Facebook and it was the third item in my feed.

The pictures.

One after another of children crying. Blood running down their faces. Eyes, haunted and too large for their tiny faces, set in stony expressions of shock. Cradling other children and weeping.

I had a panic attack on my kitchen floor.

I couldn’t look. I’m so sorry, but I can’t look.

As a mother, it’s the worst thing I can do. Not bear witness. I think of my children, silent and bloody and two-dimensional, in a photo from which people turn away and there’s never a way I’ll forgive myself.

For if it were my children, I’d scream. I’d scream for the world to keep looking. I’d never stop screaming. Until my cold, lifeless body were carted from the Earth, I’d never stop screaming for the world to look at my children.

Don’t you dare look away.

I’d never stop screaming.

But they aren’t my children.

So I cry and I hear the high-pitched gasps for air, frantic and riddled with guilt.

Because I can’t look at the pictures.

Because I’m impotent.

Because I’m doing nothing.

I learned the heart of that lesson, yet still I do nothing.

Except have a panic attack, while history repeats itself.

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